Nervy Wales edge past 14-man Fiji

Date published: November 14 2021 - Planet Rugby

Fiji will be kicking themselves after they were potentially denied a famous victory over Wales following a needless red card for Eroni Sau.

The Pacific Islanders started the match superbly and took a 13-7 lead through Waisea Nayacalevu’s try and two Ben Volavola penalties – Ryan Elias responding for the hosts.

However, Sau was sent off for a cheap shot on Johnny Williams and that ultimately proved costly in the end.

Wayne Pivac’s men struggled throughout but the pressure eventually told, despite a valiant effort from the visitors as Kieran Hardy, Alex Cuthbert, Elias and Louis Rees-Zammit secured a 38-23 victory.

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Wales prop WillGriff John was handed a first Test start, with the Scarlets forward replacing Tomas Francis, who suffered concussion during training on Friday.

Wasps flanker Thomas Young made his first Wales appearance for more than two years, and wing Cuthbert returned following a four-year international absence, but centre Josh Adams was a late withdrawal and Saracens’ Nick Tompkins started.

Fiji stunned Wales with a try after just four minutes as they struck from their first attack.

The ball was moved at a rapid rate of knots, number eight Viliame Mata delivered a superb pass to skipper Nayacalevu and the centre sprinted over, with Volavola converting.

Wales’ troubles did not end there either, as John was forced off injured – he was replaced by Dillon Lewis – and Volavola kicked a penalty to move Fiji 10-0 ahead.

But the home side then opened their account through an 11th-minute touchdown for Elias as Fiji’s forwards were driven backwards from a lineout before Biggar’s conversion made it 10-7.

John failed a head injury assessment, meaning Lewis became a permanent replacement, but Fiji soon encountered major problems as Sau was sent off by referee Nic Berry following a swinging arm hit to Wales centre Johnny Williams’ head.

Berry had a lengthy discussion with television match official Stuart Terheege, having initially looked at issuing a yellow card, but a red was unquestionably the correct decision.

Wales exerted relentless pressure as the interval approached and Fiji were reduced to 13 players when flanker Albert Tuisue was sin-binned for a technical infringement.

And the home side pounced from close range, with Hardy darting over for a try that Biggar converted.

Wales thought they had added a third try on the stroke of half-time after Rees-Zammit caught Biggar’s kick and sprinted clear, but the ball had drifted over the touchline during build-up play and the score was disallowed, meaning Wales had a 14-13 lead at the break.

Despite their numerical disadvantage, though, Fiji regained the lead three minutes into the second period when Volavola kicked a 45-metre penalty.

Wales coach Wayne Pivac began to make changes, sending on Ospreys prop Gareth Thomas and Cardiff scrum-half Tomos Williams, before Volavola should have extended Fiji’s lead, but he drifted a penalty attempt wide.

But the visitors did not have to wait much longer for a second try as a brilliant move from deep inside their own half was finished by Nayacalevu and Volavola’s successful touchline conversion made it 23-14.

Wales, though, staged a grandstand finish with tries for Elias, Cuthbert, Rees-Zammit and Williams during a devastating 17-minute spell, and Fiji’s outstanding effort ultimately proved fruitless during an outstanding contest.